Would You Stop Driving Through Downtown San Francisco if You Had to Pay to Do It?

14 min
Traffic in San Francisco (Justin Sullivan/Getty )

Driving through downtown San Francisco has always been hell (good luck getting across Market Street). Traffic has gotten worse with job growth and the advent of ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber. Could congestion pricing help? San Francisco is studying whether to charge people who drive through some of the busiest parts of the city. New York City decided it will introduce congestion pricing in 2021. Could San Francisco be next? It’ll be a hard sell since we love our cars. But desperate times in the Bay Area call for desperate measures.

Guest: Dan Brekke, KQED transportation editor

Highlights of Dan Brekke’s interview:

On congestion pricing as a way of getting cars off the street, as an alternative to expanding the roadways:

“That's simply the idea of placing a price -- charging a toll -- for driving in certain parts of the city… So you would you would charge a toll for cars entering, and possibly leaving, those areas. Anybody who's making a private car trip would have to pay for the privilege of doing that. You know, it requires a shift in thinking to look at roads as a finite resource that access to is actually sort of a privilege, not a right, for everybody to just drive on with no cost.”

Traffic in San Francisco (Amanda Font / KQED)

On traffic woes around the nation:

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“This is a conversation that could be held in any big American city. Anywhere you go, you find people who are experiencing this sort of existential dread about having to get to and from their livelihoods. This is much bigger than San Francisco, is my point.”

On concerns around the affordability of San Francisco’s congestion charge plans:

“It's one thing to charge an engineer who's making a six figure salary well into six figures, you know, for entering and leaving the congestion zone. It's another thing to do that to a hotel worker…So finding some way of making this equitable is going to be a big challenge, because you can't charge everybody the same price. You just can't. People will rebel.”

Traffic crawls in downtown San Francisco (Sara Bloomberg / KQED)

On how soon the Bay Area might look beyond cars as the primary modes of transport:

“I mean, the easy answer is ‘we'll see.’ It's going to take a while. It's going to take a real serious debate for all this stuff to happen… It's a really car-centric world. There's something laid down in our brains about what we feel comfortable with…. There could be another way of imagining our cities and communities, that it's very hard to do because it means turning our back on what we feel comfortable with.”

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